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How 301 Redirects Save SEO in a Website Redesign

[fa icon="calendar"] Sep 23, 2015 11:25:29 AM / by Christie Gunden

So, you are preparing to launch your newly redesigned website, and the anticipation levels are high. You’re knee deep in content updates and deciding whether to manually or automatically alias your URLs. Like most of our clients, you subscribe to one of three camps:

  1. There’s one thing keeping you up at night, and it’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO.) You’re wondering how to maintain your page rank from one website to the next, and how you’re going to manage all of the pages that will no longer exist on your new website.

  2. You are familiar with the role 301 redirects play in your website launch strategy. (If this is you, skip this post and check out the strategy, implementation, and testing tips in my full e-book, “How to Avoid an SEO Disaster with 301 Redirects.”)

  3. The thought hasn’t crossed your mind.

Regardless of where you are coming from, redirects are super important, and we’re here to cover it today. 

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Redirects Are Essential in a Website Redesign

A 301 redirect is an HTTP status code that forwards both users and search engines from one URL to another URL. Think of it in the same way as if you decided to move your home address; you would ask the post office to permanently forward your mail to a new address because you’d no longer live at the old one. Similarly, 301 redirects permanently tell website visitors and search engines that your content no longer lives at the old URL and to seek it at the new URL instead.

So, if any of your URL structure changes in the redesign, even if the content existed on the old site, neither search engines nor website visitors will know unless you tell them. If you fail to tell them, your page will produce a 404 “page not found” error when visited and eventually drop its placement in the search results.

301 redirects provide a positive experience for your website visitors and search engines, and must be an essential part of your website launch strategy. They are recognized as the best method of transferring SEO authority (and visitors) from one webpage to the next. Let’s be clear that there is no way to transfer 100% of your “link juice” (the PageRank value that your page has earned over time); however, most experts agree that 301 redirects transfer 90-99% of it.

I appreciate clever 404 “Page not Found” error pages as much as the next marketer, and you should definitely create one that delights your visitors, but our shared goal is that your visitors never actually have to encounter it. Avoid it by implementing a solid 301 redirect strategy.

Cautions for 301 Redirects

Clients often ask if there is a limit to the number of 301 redirects. According to Matt Cutts of Google, the answer is no (… thank goodness). Something to keep an eye out for, though, is 301 “hopping,” or chaining multiple redirects together across several pages. Here is what he says:

“If you can do it in one hop that is ideal because you don’t have to worry about people getting lost and the latency is much lower. But [Google is] willing to follow multiple hops, multiple levels of redirects. At the same time, if you get too many, up to 4-5 hops, that is getting dangerous. Google might decide not to follow all of those redirects.”

Page Rank is Hard to Earn, Easy to Lose

SEO is a tricky practice because Google admits to over 200 factors in deciding how a page should rank and updates their ranking algorithm 500-600 times per year. So we know that ranking for terms search engine results pages is neither quick nor simple. You’ve likely spent much time and effort trying to be findable and to achieve ranking and don’t want to get lost in the transition from your old website to the new one.

Something else to keep in mind that there is a difference between PageRank and indexing. Just because you set up 301 redirects from your old site to your new site does not mean that search engines have automatically indexed your new URLs. Crawlers will index your new content and URLs to display in search results, but this will take time to occur naturally.

So fear not, my fellow marketers, there is a way to preserve most of your link juice at launch. For advice on strategy, implementation, and testing tips (… prepare for a shameless plug…) check out my latest ebook “Avoid an SEO Disaster Using 301 Redirects.” Any questions or comments? Leave them below.

View "Avoid an SEO Disaster with 301 Redirects" Ebook

Topics: Website Marketing Goals, SEO

Christie Gunden

Written by Christie Gunden